GP practices in deprived areas of Sussex will receive a £1.5m winter funding cash injection, the local commissioner has announced.
Sussex Health and Care ICS announced the funding last month as part of a set of measures aimed at ‘improving access to primary care this winter’.
NHS England had asked integrated care boards (ICBs) to identify where to allocate potential winter support funding to GP practices and PCNs in their area in September – with a focus on areas with deprivation and recruitment challenges.
But it revealed in October that there would be ‘no additional’ winter funding nationally, while reiterating that ICBs should identify how their ‘system development funding’ (SDF) should be targeted to support practices.
The Sussex ICS said that ‘£1.5 million new funding is being allocated to practices in areas that have the highest number of patients living in deprivation to provide more accessible and responsive services’.
However, it remains unclear how this money will be spent.
At the same time, the ICS is also investing ‘£1.8m this winter to support practices to further improve access’, it said.
The fund will ‘encourage innovation to support practices to remain accessible and responsive to patients’, it added.
The commissioner said this could include ‘additional GPs, healthcare assistants, practice nurses or other key staff working extra sessions to increase appointment availability for patients’.
The funding could also back support for practice ‘workflow’, additional administrative support to ‘bolster patient response times’ or training on care navigation or signposting to ‘better manage patient demand’, it added.
But it is unclear how this fund will be allocated – and when both pots of money will reach practices.
Other measures to improve GP access include:
- Providing evening and weekend appointments through the PCN DES’s enhanced access service
- Further recruitment of ARRS staff into local PCNs
- New phone systems so that incoming calls are via the internet rather than practice phone lines, online or e-consultation appointment booking and ‘call-back options’ to cut waiting times in telephone queues
- The same-day community pharmacy consultation service for patients with minor illnesses
The ICS said: ‘We know more people will need to use health and care services over the coming months, due to winter bugs, people’s existing conditions getting worse in the cold, and the expected increase in the rates of flu and Covid.
‘Many people have told us this year that they are happy with their local GP practice and were able to get advice and care quickly and in ways that worked for them. However, some people said they did have difficulties getting appointments and care in the way they wanted and in timely way.’
It added: ‘We are working with GP practices across Sussex to make improvements for the winter period – and for the longer term – to help to improve access to GP practices for patients across our communities.’
The ICS also encouraged patients to ‘make the right choice when they need care, to ensure they get the right care, at the right time’ as local practices see ‘siginificant increases in need for care’.
It urged patients to give ‘as much information as possible’ to the reception team when booking an appointment so they can be ‘seen by the right person’ at their GP practice.
And it pointed them towards pharmacies for ‘over-the-counter medicines, self-care treatments and a range of medical advice and support’.
The ICS said the number of appointments offered is ‘rising every month since the start of the year’ and is ‘expected to increase further as we move into winter’.
GP appointment waiting times in the county are comparable to before the pandemic and ‘above the national and regional average’ and more than 41,000 appointments were held each working day in Sussex in September, it added.